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The national response to mass shootings is stuck on repeat

The shooting at a school in Florida has set in motion a familiar pattern: Shock and grief give way to condolences and calls for greater gun control. But that pattern has been playing out for years and, at least in Congress, usually has the same result. William Branham reports.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    The tragic shooting in Florida has set into motion a familiar pattern: Shock and grief give way to calls for some restrictions on the supply or sale of high-powered weapons used in almost all of these mass killings.

    As William Brangham reports, that pattern has been playing out for years and, at least in Congress, usually has the same result.

  • George Hinckley:

    This was clearly the most devastating and traumatic scene that I have ever seen or been associated with. I hope never to see it again.

  • William Brangham:

    The collective national response to mass shootings began before 1999, but it was on clear display after the shooting at Columbine High School, where two students used semiautomatic weapons to kill 13 and wound 24 others.

    First, in the shock and grief, leaders express sorrow.

  • President Bill Clinton:

    To the people of the community of Littleton, I can only say tonight that the prayers of the American people are with you.

  • William Brangham:

    And then, the following month, Congress debated sweeping gun control legislation in response, including a bill requiring background checks be performed at gun shows, like those where the Columbine killers got their guns. That legislation stalled in the House of Representatives.

  • President George W. Bush:

    Laura and I have come to Blacksburg today with hearts full of sorrow. This is a day of mourning for the Virginia Tech community.

  • William Brangham:

    In 2007, a student with a history of mental illness used semiautomatic handguns to kill 32 people at Virginia Tech. This time, some things did change. Afterwards, President George W. Bush signed a six-year-old bill into law strengthening background checks, making it harder for dangerously mentally ill people to buy guns.

    But, according to many, determining who belongs in that database, and getting all agencies to comply, has severely hampered its effectiveness.

  • Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.:

    All of us continue to grieve and mourn the tragic attack and deaths.

  • William Brangham:

    In 2011, after Congresswoman Gabby Giffords was shot and six others were killed in Tucson, Arizona, there were widespread calls for reform, especially to curtail the sale of high-capacity magazines like those used by the shooter.

    But none of the legislation introduced after Tucson ever came up for a full vote. The same thing occurred a year late, when 12 people were killed and 70 more wounded in a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado. Renewed calls for gun control and mental health screening went unanswered.

  • President Barack Obama:

    The majority of those who died today were children, beautiful little kids between the ages of 5 and 10 years old. They had their entire lives ahead of them.

  • William Brangham:

    When 20 first graders and six teachers were killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut in 2012, gun control advocates felt the nation's horror and outrage would be enough for some bipartisan consensus.

  • Sen. Pat Toomey R-Pa.:

    A perfectly reasonable place to end up where for both sides ought to be able to agree is just to make it a little harder for criminals and dangerously mentally ill people to obtain weapons.

  • Wayne LaPierre:

    The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.

  • William Brangham:

    Against stiff opposition from the NRA, legislation was introduced to limit certain assault rifles and high-capacity magazines, like those used by the Sandy Hook killer, as well as requiring background checks for all gun purchases.

  • Barack Obama:

    So, all in all, this was a pretty shameful today in Washington.

  • William Brangham:

    But the Senate defeated or blocked all legislation.

    Similarly, there was no federal action after 14 people were killed and 21 injured in San Bernardino, California, in 2015, nor the next year later, when 49 people were murdered at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida.

  • Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga.:

    We're calling on the leadership of the House to bring commonsense gun control legislation to the House floor. Give us a vote.

  • William Brangham:

    And then, last October, the nation's worst modern-day mass shooting at a country music festival in Las Vegas, 58 people were killed and hundreds more wounded by a single gunman.

    The killer used what's known as a bump stock to make his semiautomatic rifles shoot faster, and initially, there, was bipartisan talk of regulating them.

  • Rep. Carlos Curbelo R-Fla.:

    This prohibition, this ban on these bump stocks should be codified.

  • William Brangham:

    Five months later, no legislation regarding bump stocks has passed Congress.

    Now, in the wake of yet another mass shooting, this pattern has begun again.

  • President Donald Trump:

    Our entire nation, with one heavy heart, is praying for the victims and their families.

  • William Brangham:

    For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm William Brangham.

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